Friday, May 29, 2009

All Japanese... Some of the Time

Way back in the Fall of 2008 (if one can consider that "way back"), I was lucky enough to stumble upon a little ol' site by the name of All Japanese All the Time that would ultimately inspire me to undertake this long and grueling journey. I have a great deal of respect for Khatzumoto and all he's done for the language learning community, and I've learned a considerable amount of valuable information from his articles.

However, I quickly realized that such a full immersion environment simply wasn't feasible, nor enjoyable for me - at least, not in the way Khatz has it all laid out. 
I also realized how much he over exaggerates in order to get his points across, and I think this is something a lot of people don't recognize. I don't believe that he literally wants his readers to ditch their friends in favor of Japanese speaking ones, nor do I believe that he literally means we should all get rid of our non-Japanese music, or deck out our living quarters in traditional Japanese decor, all for the sake of immersion.
These are extremes that may have worked for him, personally, but things I'd never even consider touching with a ten foot pole. I love learning this language and I'm very comfortable at the pace I'm going, and to sacrifice things so dear to me for the sake of learning a little faster is beyond ridiculous.
Besides that, living in Japanese simply begins to wear on me, and when I want to do something very specific and technical on my operating system, for example, I'd really rather not stumble around in the dark and risk doing something stupid like accidentally formatting my hard drive (yes, now I'm exaggerating to get my point across). It's not fun, it's not productive - at least, not at the point I'm at currently. I can certainly see myself pushing immersion to this level a year from now, when I can really get a lot more out of everything I've learned up to that point, but if the immersion isn't enjoyable for me, I don't feel as though I'm missing much by forgoing it.

Which leads me to another criticism - Khatz does a decent job of explaining his whole system, but really hurls you out of the nest straight into the great beyond once it comes time to really start things. Learning kanji before kana? I can see the benefits for a beginning learner who is absolutely, unfalteringly dead serious about learning Japanese, but for the vast majority of those interested in learning the language, this approach is ridiculous. Considering how much of the important fundamentals one could soak up in a short period of time from a good beginner's text book or a well instructed class, it boggles my mind to recommend leaping straight into kanji before learning the kana.

And that leads me to my next point: the propaganda that all language classes are a horrible, despicable, draconian thing to be avoided at all costs. I'm truly sorry if your language class experiences were that bad, but the vast majority of my language teachers were nothing less than wonderful. There's nothing inherently bad about language classes; it's absolutely about the teacher and how they teach the language. Assuming a class isn't too infrequent, I can think of few better ways to build a solid foundation for any language. Of course you're not going to become fluent from classes alone, but this is common sense.

Another point which many AJATTeers seem to get caught up on (which is only their own fault) is Khatzu's "10,000 sentences" model which, while a pretty darn good guideline for all intents and purposes, should by no means be the ultimate goal of the learner. All too often do I see learners trying to import huge quantities of sentences via pre-constructed SRS decks for the sake of reaching this figure of 10,000 faster, but it just doesn't work this way.
Quality of sentences will vary dramatically depending on source, and the method by which the learner is studying said sentences will also have a significant impact (focusing on one word from the sentence? the entire sentence, strictly? going by production from kana to kanji? etc).
Khatz mentions quality of sentences very frequently - if you feel that a sentence sucks, in any way, shape or form, it's destined for deletion. I believe he cites a near 50% deletion rate of his sentences, in fact, which I can definitely believe as I do my fair share of deleting with prejudice, myself. Imagine going through 10,000 without ever deleting one - think of all the garbage cards you'd have to suffer through in the process. On the other hand, assuming you're deleting 50% of these suckers, you're more likely going to go through 15,000 or more before you reach the 10k goal (in theory anyway).

By now, I must sound like I'm an anti-AJATT, purist pundit, but quite the contrary as I've adopted and practice plenty from this system (and indeed, philosophy)
As I've said, I have massive amounts of respect for Khatzumoto himself and AJATT in general. As with all teachers, though (see also: James Heisig, another invaluable 先生 of mine), I believe it's important for individual, mental (and even spiritual) growth for the student to regularly question and challenge, and to keep a critical and open mind at all times.

Presently, I'm progressing at a pace comfortable to me without constant immersion, and I never thought I'd have made it this far in well under a year. I've set goals (big and small) throughout the year which I know I'll obtain, and it's a great feeling. I'm playing through my favorite RPGs in Japanese, I'm reading my favorite manga in Japanese, I'm watching slews of dramas and movies and anime in Japanese and every single day I move a few steps closer to my ultimate goal of fluency and literacy - all of this without full immersion, without worrying about collecting 10,000 sentences, without abandoning all of life's simple, English-language pleasures. Let's call it, All Japanese Some of the Time.

Now if you'll pardon me - it's back to reviewing sentences while rocking out to Iron Maiden, a band I can only wish was in Japanese.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The power of music and language

As I mentioned in a previous post last week, I've really not gotten a whole lot out of music listening as far as language acquisition goes. For the most part, a great deal of the music I listen to places most emphasis on instruments rather than lyrics, with vocals often playing the role of an additional instrument in the mix, so it's just not something I pay much attention to. I can listen to a song dozens upon dozens of times without so much as picking up one word, even in English. There are, of course, many exceptions.

Lately, however, I've been doing a bit of experimenting. I've taken my favorite Boris album, Heavy Rocks - a fuzzed out, overdriven, high energy stoner rock masterpiece and one of the band's more lyrical works - and have made a conscious effort to pay close attention to the vocals, going so far as transcribing (and translating, when possible) a few songs by ear.
The result has been interesting, to say the least. First, and not surprisingly, I've managed to unearth new life in an album I've listened to probably a hundred times by now. I discovered that not only do their lyrics add a heck of a lot to their music, but they're quite badass to boot - take part of the chorus from the song 殺す for example:
俺の全てを殺す 入り込む邪悪イメージ 俺は全てを殺す 放射する「有」のイメージ
How I've missed out on such badassery all this time is beyond me.
Second, and also not very surprising, perhaps thanks to the repetition of having to rewind and listen to specific parts numerous times before I'm able to transcribe them accurately, my listening comprehension for these songs has shot up tremendously, and many of the new words I've come across are sticking quite nicely. As I listen more after having learned all this new vocabulary, it only becomes further cemented in my head.

This experience has opened my eyes a bit more toward music as a tool for language acquisition. As my listening comprehension in general improves (it's admittedly quite poor currently), I seem to get more out of listening to music in Japanese.
I also have to consider the more obvious educational aspects of music as a learning tool - who, among us native English-language speakers, isn't familiar with the ABC Song? I'll unashamedly admit that I still bust that sucker out on occasion to verify that S, indeed, comes before T. It's perhaps the most basic example of how music can aid in the learning process and burrow itself into our long term memory for years and years - so it's certainly no stretch to conclude that the same principles can be applied to music and general language learning.

From The NY Times comes this fascinating article on memory, the following paragraph being most relevant to the topic of music and language:
A simple melody with a simple rhythm and repetition can be a tremendous mnemonic device. “It would be a virtually impossible task for young children to memorize a sequence of 26 separate letters if you just gave it to them as a string of information,” Dr. Thaut said. But when the alphabet is set to the tune of the ABC song with its four melodic phrases, preschoolers can learn it with ease.
Testament to both the power of music and mnemonics, I'd say. Let's just hope that I can replace "simply melody with a simple rhythm" with "shredding guitars, polyrhythms and guttural Cookie Monster vocals" and I'll be good to go!

Anime: Michiko to Hatchin

Hark, I seem to have stumbled upon a treasure trove of excellent anime! This time a somewhat more recent series, just having concluded in March of this year, and one of the most unique and interesting I've seen in quite some time.

ミチコとハッチン immediately struck me as appealing for the simple fact that it's an anime with a little bit of cultural diversity. Don't get me wrong, it's quite understandable that a sizable portion of anime is based in the country it's made in, set in or around high schools because of its target demographic, and so forth - but it all just gets a little boring and stale eventually, doesn't it? Especially in this decade, anime has seriously been bumping down a path of cliche, and don't even get me started on this whole モエ craze...
So how often does an anime set entirely in a (fictional) country resembling South America come along? And how often does a foreign-based anime manage to get everything so right? From the culture and architecture of the Brazilian-esque cities, to the copious use of written Spanish and Portuguese, Michiko to Hatchin quickly demonstrates that not all anime has to be about schoolgirls and ninjas.

The premise is perhaps even more unique, as it follows a mother and daughter (that is, Michiko and Hatchin, also known as Hana) on their journey to track down the girl's father. While this plot might sound a little dull on the surface, it eventually leads to some interesting situations with a colorful (and often dangerous) cast of characters.
Michiko is brash, tough and would more often than not prefer to beat the living tar out of someone rather than put up with their crap. In contrast, Hatchin is far more calm, rational and independent (and quite intelligent and mature for a 10 year old girl), which often causes clashes between the two - quite often, in fact. But ultimately, it's the relationship between mother and daughter that makes this story so compelling and almost believable. The characters of Michiko to Hatchin are, at their core, all too human and vulnerable, capable of succumbing to their own weaknesses and often taunted and tormented by the pains of their past. This leads to some interesting events and revelations, and numerous unexpected outcomes which I daren't spoil... Let's just say that I've rarely seen an anime that breaks the kind of ground Michiko to Hatchin does in terms of storyline and characterization.

If you're looking for something a little different with a dash of crime drama and a whole lot of culture, you could do far worse than Michiko to Hatchin. Fans of Cowboy Bebop should feel right about at home.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

What a long, strange trip it's been

I've come a long, long way since I began in late August of last year. I'm cruising along quite comfortably now, but it hasn't always been this way. I've written in detail about my trials and errors and I've extensively gotten my hands dirty and tested new things in order to figure out exactly what worked best for me, and what did not; that's simply the kind of learner I am. If there's a different way to do something, you'd better believe I'm gonna give it a try. This is sometimes met with success... and sometimes not. Mileage varies, to be sure, but one important fact remains above all else: no matter what I end up doing, I'm still learning Japanese. 

The method is only a minor detail in the grand scheme of things - the most important thing of all is enjoying the ride, because it's gonna be a very, very long one.

So, what have I learned throughout my trial and error? Well, I'll tell you. The following should not be taken as gospel, as there is no such thing when it comes to language acquisition - if it works for you, do it. If it doesn't, change it. I hope that by sharing my experiences and opinions, I can help others discover and form their own.

  • Music
If makes plenty of sense that music is a recommended tool for language acquisition. Repetitive choruses, catchy hooks and common thematic elements should be quite easy to pick up in music, right? But it just doesn't seem to do a whole lot for me.

You know, maybe it's just the way I listen to music in general, but I don't usually pay a whole lot of attention to the lyrics. Perhaps it's the kind of music I listen to, which is often very melodic, heavy and... well, loud. Lyrics are great and some of my favorite music is absolutely brilliant and poetic in its lyrical content, but it's not something I actively pay attention to - if I can clearly hear and interpret the lyrics, I'll do so. Pop, folk and country music are examples of genres where lyrics are prominently featured and quite difficult to miss. Meanwhile, I doubt you're gonna care nearly as much about lyrics in, say, death metal or shoegaze where they tend to take the back seat to the much more powerful instrumental elements.

Maybe the solution is more Japanese country music.

Whatever the case may be, I don't find myself learning very much from listening to music. YMMV.

  • Subbed material
One of the most prevalent doctrines I've come across is the principle that subbed material is detrimental to the learning process of a language. For the most part, I agree: consider the massive popularity of fansubbed anime, for instance, and that most fans know only the most common of words and phrases. This is no slight against them, because most anime fans have no (or little) desire to learn the language; they simply want to enjoy the show in a language they understand. In that case, of course, subs aren't going to go very far where language learning is concerned.

Conversely, if one is actively working to acquire a language, they'll presumably be paying far more attention to the spoken language than the typical sub watcher. Assuming the subtitles are fairly accurate, a learner with basic knowledge of the language should be able to very easily pick out spoken words to match with subtitles. Without the aid of subs, the watcher is left entirely to context, which may be confusingly ambiguous given the situation, and may be passed up entirely.
In my experience, this has been the case. I certainly pick up plenty of goodies when I watch raw material, but at the point I'm currently at in my "journey", I find myself soaking up a heck of a lot more vocabulary from subtitled stuff. But don't get me wrong - this is not a case of which is better for learning, but a case of two entirely different methods with very different kinds of learning. Whereas one picks up on patterns and words through repetition and context from raw material, one has a more direct, unambiguous link via subtitles, and I believe the brain handles either instance differently.

I must note that subbed material still makes up only a very small portion of what I watch. Ultimately, however, I've found that subbed material is most definitely not the scaly, fire breathing devil it's demonized as by the community at large. Give it a try and see if you get anything out of it - see if you can follow the spoken dialogue and subs at the same time and keep a good dictionary handy (preferably going J-J, if you're manly enough!).

  • Monolingual dictionaries and J-J in general
Ahh yes, the much feared concept of J-J, which even many advanced-level Japanese learners still avoid! The basic idea is that looking up words in a Japanese to Japanese dictionary will give you the most accurate definition in the context of - surprise, surprise! - Japanese, without the many ambiguities and inaccuracies of Japanese to English, all the while giving you crucial exposure to the language and building a familiarity with the way a J-dic works.

It's easy to understand why people might get a little nervous at the prospect of looking an unknown word in a largely unknown language, for obvious reasons which I need not elaborate upon. It's not uncommon for me having to look up words within definitions within definitions, sometimes up to half a dozen or more generations. This can indeed quickly get tiring, but considering how much you've just learned by leaping from word to word, the benefit is right there in plain sight.
Even more profound is the fact that, even if a definition contains several words you don't understand, you can still quite likely get a very good idea of what the word means by the other words in the definition that you can understand. You'll realize this more as you get comfortable to the layout of the dictionary. It's quite a powerful thing, and it gives you access to a huge world of language acquisition at your finger tips.

One thing I've struggled a bit on, however, has been adding J-J definitions to my SRS. For the most part, I found that it's simply too time consuming, tedious and generally not beneficial enough to warrant all the extra typing and copy-pasting - at least not unless the unknown word or words are really tricky ones. Besides, my sentence decks are already, for the most part, monolingual. If the source sentence comes with a translation, I'll paste that too, but I have to highlight it with my mouse in order to make it show up (thanks to some very simple HTML tagging in Anki).

  • One deck to rule them all?
Some months ago, I consolidated my good ol' RTK deck with my growing sentences deck. At the time, it was the best solution to tackle my growing problem of reviewing two relatively beefy decks at the same time, and it worked pretty well. Though I find reviewing RTK cards quite dull, this sorta forced me to get them out of the way before sinking my teeth into the sweet, cream-filled center of the sentences within - gotta eat the vegetables before getting to the dessert, basically.
But boy, did that deck start getting messy and disorganized quickly. I don't keep much of anything meticulous and perfectly arranged, but talk about a bunch of bloat. This wasn't particularly the fault of a consolidated deck as it was my own overzealous experimentation with importing material from spreadsheets and iKnow, resulting in more bloat than Windows Vista and Rush Limbaugh combined. I kept up the reviews regardless.
Recently, I made a brand new deck as something of a supplement, and something of a "fresh start" - that meticulous, clean deck I've sorta always wanted (which, of course, would build up its own clutter over time as well), focusing on NukeMarine and co's awesome 2001KO lists on, vocabulary and onyomi in general. It was then that I realized once again the benefit of having multiple decks - more focused and flexible reviewing.

When it came time to back up Anki for my reformat last week to give Windows 7 a try (pretty slick OS, by the way!), I made the decision to split these two decks into three: RTK would become its own deck once again, as would all my 900~ grammar sentences, and my new, growing vocabulary/onyomi deck. I've been quite happy with this setup. Sure, it means more neglecting my RTK deck while I focus on the two others, but as I've said in the past... I don't think anything can make reviewing that deck any less dull. Luckily, the writing I do when I review sentences goes a long way in reinforcing my mnemonics, so perhaps I can soon retire that poor ol' bag of bones? We'll see... At any rate, I'm back to multiple decks and quite comfortable.

  • Importing SRS material
Letting a spreadsheet or Anki plugin do the hard work and injecting slews of new material into your deck. This is a very tempting proposition, especially considering how much time it takes to enter hundreds, thousands of your own sentences. In some cases, it tends to work out quite well, too - Tae Kim's grammar guide comes to mind.

However, assume you import one thousand new sentences from, each containing a new word you're not familiar with. Will the plugin even import the image and audio along with it? Will it import the kana correctly? If you're like me and prefer to break up kana with spaces and highlight key vocabulary, you're pretty much S.O.L. there, too.
But most of all, doesn't this sort of go against the whole idea of the SRS, where you're technically meant to "learn" the sentence first, before throwing it into the thing? Or, at the very least, having a vague familiarity with the sentence. In my experience, it's that complete unfamiliarity that completely ruins the process of importing material, causing me to spend significantly more time reviewing and frustratingly failing cards, without any sense of association between image, audio, kanji and the sentence itself. 

Allowing yourself time to build those associations beforehand seems like a very important step, which is why I do almost all of my adding by hand. It takes time, to be sure, but my brain thanks me later when I don't have to strain during the already intensive reviewing process to make sense of all this junk! Besides, I can also ensure that I have everything in place the way I want it (as I outlined above) with no unwanted surprises, no B.S., nothing that will slow me down or distract me.

  • Distractions and Concentration
If there's anything more detrimental to progress than distraction, I sure don't want to be on the receiving end of it. I'm sure this is something that everyone is more than a little familiar with, in any line of study or work or what have you: you're chugging along on a project when, suddenly, something inexplicably distracts you from your work and completely derails your concentration. If you're anything like me, it takes time to regain that state of concentration and focus. Whatever that distraction may be - instant messages, door bell from the mail man, booty call on the telephone, dog on fire, fire alarm from the dog on fire, building burning down around you - you can be certain that your focus will be left in shambles after some amount of (or magnitude of) distractions.
If there's a way to prevent this broken focus, I sure haven't found it yet. It helps me to quiet my mind and meditate for a short period of time, certainly, but this is only one step of many back to the path of concentration. The trick is, of course, to prevent these distractions entirely... but that's easier said than done.

One of the tools I sometimes use is, which is just that - simply white/pink/brown noise in the most literal sense, which is actually quite soothing to listening to and does a great job in muffling nearby sounds. The side effect is that this could just as easily muffle any audio cards, but I haven't really had this problem (I do wear headphones often, though).

Another solution for avoiding distraction is finding the best times in the day when possible distractions are kept to the bare minimum. Again, easier said than done, especially for the more busy and active among us. Personally, the early afternoon works well for me, when I can comfortably invest a good hour of uninterrupted SRS review time. When it comes time to add more sentences, distractions aren't as big a deal since that process is a little more mechanical and doesn't require as many mental cogs working in tandem. 

Your mileage, once again, may vary. Sometimes, I just have days where I wake up on the wrong side of the bed and can't seem to focus at all, distractions or none. In those cases I just have to suck it up and do the best I can, which is really the only thing I can do. Other times, I'll go for a week straight with my mind blazing, plowing through anything thrown at me with ease and a pristine clarity. Man, I wish I had those more often.

  • Video games: not just for antisocial kids!
Looking back, as a jaded 20-something, it's easy to grimace at all the time I wasted on video games since a very early age. At the same time, they've undoubtedly helped shape me into who I am today (ahem, for better or worse!), and the experiences have stuck with me quite profoundly. It was largely the classic RPGs of the early 90s that influenced my greatest interests and hobbies (writing, Japanese culture and language, etc), so I can't regret those countless spent hours.

Lucky for me, they'd serve another, far more practical purpose further down the road. I've begun replaying many of them in Japanese, of course, and since I know a great deal of the dialogue by heart, I've found it incredibly easy to adapt to the Japanese script and pick up phrases and words. 
The most recent example is Final Fantasy 6 (classically known as Final Fantasy 3 here in the USA), a game I've probably played to completion a dozen times since its release in 1994. It still ranks as one of my favorite games of all time, and my very favorite Final Fantasy game along with 4. A memorable cast of many, an epic struggle versus an oppressive, power hungry empire (hey now, it was one of the first RPGs to do it, practically!) and dark, thematic elements I had never seen in a game before (many of which were, in fact, censored from the original SNES release). It seemed like the perfect choice of a game to replay, and now a few hours in, I'm sure I made the right choice. Loads of text and a story I already know like the back of my hand makes for some highly effective language learning.

Another example was Cave Story, which was actually only recently released, in 2004. I discovered it about two years ago and loved it to pieces, got the itch to play it again recently, and of course did so in Japanese (this time completing the insane difficulty "hell mode", to boot!).

Even if your past experience with RPGs (and any other text heavy game with a Japanese release, really) is nonexistent, I highly recommend picking up a few. I can hardly imagine a more fun language learning activity, personally.

That covers most of the bases for the time being. Needless to say, I've gotten my hands dirty in the brief time I've spent so far, and yet, I feel like I've barely scratched the surface. There's much experimentation, trial and error ahead, and much to learn. Never a dull moment, that's for sure, but considering how long the road to fluency is, this is nothing but a good thing.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Games: 洞窟物語 (Cave Story)

Developed entirely by one talented individual known as Pixel over the span of five years and released for free on the Internet is perhaps the finest freeware indie game ever made, entitled 洞窟物語 (Doukutsu Monogatari), better known as Cave Story.

In Cave Story, you play the role of an android named Quote as you awaken in a strange village of rabbit-like anthropomorphic creatures called Mimiga. You quickly discover that all is not right in this odd land where the Mimiga are being terrorized and kidnapped by an enigmatic figure known only as "The Doctor" and his henchmen. Of course, saving them all from certain doom is your job.

Gameplay in Cave Story is rather similar to the Metroid series, giving you a modest variety of weaponry and tools to overcome obstacles and enemies. The potency and power of weapons can be increased by collecting the shards dropped by enemies, capable of leveling most items up through four tiers, with level 1 being relatively weak and maxed level 3 quite destructive by comparison.
Be careful, though - Cave Story's difficulty can be quite harsh, and indeed, within the first minutes of the game you'll likely meet an untimely demise, even if you're careful. Quote begins the game with very few hit points, making even a few hits (or one gentle poke from a spike) quite deadly. Additionally, Quote's currently equipped weapon loses quite a bit of its "EXP" whenever he takes damage, so you'll want to take care to keep your weapons maintained and maxed out whenever possible to maximize your damage output.
As if the main portion of the game wasn't tricky enough, the game contains a few hidden challenges with absolutely demonic difficulty for those masochists among us.

Coding, artwork and graphics, music and sounds - everything in Cave Story was built from the ground up by one man. The amount of time, effort, sweat and blood that's gone into this game is nothing short of amazing, and every ounce of it shows from beginning to end. Whereas many games of today are backed by tens of millions of dollars and dozens, if not hundreds of developers and still turn out mediocre, at best, it's an inspiring thing to see the work of one man take fruition and excel so far - and for such a low price, all the while.

Of course, the game has been entirely translated into English (as well as other languages), but you'll download the Japanese client, won't you?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

RevTK stories and political correctness

This is quite a peeve of mine that stretches back to when I first began RTK in late August of last year.

I stumbled upon the rich resource of creative, helpful RTK mnemonic stories in RevTK rather quickly, which served incredibly beneficial over the next few months as I worked my way through. What I quickly noticed, however, were the amount of "reports" against stories with anything remotely related to race, gender, sex and sexuality and so forth. In my mind, I began to imagine that every single user of this site must be a prude of enormous magnitude to be offended by such trivial things - things which Mr. Heisig himself would probably give a polite nod to, as he originally recommended the use of extremely exaggerated, even shocking mnemonics, as an effective memory tool.

Of course, after becoming more involved with the community, I discovered that most users were mature and rational enough to either understand the usefulness of shocking, vulgar stories, or ignore them and move on. After all, the entire Heisig process is a very personal one, and one mnemonic story may be useless for one person, whereas it sticks immediately for another, so some amount of variety, even vulgar, is surely beneficial.
But as I poked through the threads, I'd come across calls to delete specific stories which were supposedly vile, disgusting or immoral. Almost always the same kind of thread, really - someone, somehow, gets their feelings hurt by a funky little two sentence story meant to aid in the recollection of a Chinese character, and demands that it's removed. Rarely are these stories removed (I can't recall a specific incident, anyway).

It boggles my mind that intelligent adults such as these can get so wound up on something so trivial and meaningless, when it's so easy to turn the other way. When one can instead use rational thought to understand the existance and usefulness of such things, of counter-points and opinions, rather than crying foul and demanding censorship which benefits no one. 

Political correctness is a disease I'd rather stay far, far away from; it's an impossibility to satisfy everyone, it's impossible not to offend or upset someone by means of simple words. So what do we do? We censor ourselves, the way we speak and our opinions. We make up new terms and phrases to mask the original, offending ones. Where does it end? Who's to say what's offensive and what's acceptable?

My ol' buddy George Carlin sums it up in his skit titled "Euphemisms" better than anyone:

We have no more deaf people in this country. Hearing impaired. No more blind people. Partially sighted or visually impaired. No more stupid people, everyone has a learning disorder. Or he's minimally exceptional. How would you like to told that about your child? 'He's minimally exceptional.' Psychologists have actually started calling ugly people those with severe appearance deficits. It's getting so bad that any day now I expect to hear a rape victim referred to as an unwilling sperm recipient!
And we have no more old people in this country. No more old people. We shipped them all away and we brought in these senior citizens. Isn't that a typically American twentieth century phrase? Bloodless. Lifeless. No pulse in one of them. A senior citizen. But I've accepted that one. I've come to terms with it. I know it's here to stay. We'll never get rid of it. But the one I do resist, the one I keep resisting, is when they look at an old guy and say, "Look at him Dan, he's ninety years young." Imagine the fear of aging that reveals. To not even be able to use the word old to describe someone. To have to use an antonym.
And fear of aging is natural. It's universal, isn't it? We all have that. No one wants to get old. No one wants to die. But we do. So we bullshit ourselves. I started bullshitting myself when I got in my forties. I'd look in the mirror and say, "Well...I guess I'm getting ...older." Older sounds a little better than old, doesn't it? Sounds like it might even last a little longer. Bullshit, I'm getting old. And it's okay. Because thanks to our fear of death in this country I won't have to die. I'll pass away. Or I'll expire, like a magazine subscription. If it happens in the hospital they'll call it a terminal episode. The insurance company will refer to it as negative patient care outcome. And if it's the result of malpractice they'll say it was a therapeutic misadventure.
I'm telling ya, some of this language makes me want to vomit. Well, maybe not vomit ...makes me want to engage in an involuntary personal protein spill."
My one and only concern with RevTK's story section would be exposing children, but there are manageable solutions that have been discussed in the past, and will likely be put into place in the future (considering the website is administrated by one busy guy, I can totally sympathize). In the meantime, though - exactly how many children actually use Heisig? Having poked through a few "age threads" out of curiosity, the youngest user I came across was 15, which isn't exactly the most innocent age anymore when it comes to racy, risque or borderline-offensive material. Heisig's method was developed with the adult brain in mind, after all, and while nothing explicitly states that a younger mind can't benefit from visual memory mnemonics, the system is clearly geared toward adults. Somehow, "think of the children" doesn't really seem very relevant.

And with that, I leave you with my first official rant on this blog. 
Ultimately, I don't think the matter is a major one on RevTK considering, as I mentioned above, that the community is largely mature, intelligent and rational enough to either understand the potential benefit of, or turn a blind eye to, potentially offending material. I feel that the ever looming threat of censorship (which includes political correctness, in my mind) is one that must be fought on any front if we, as a global community, are to protect the fundamental rights of expression we're entitled to as a social species.